Looking for various research and medical studies conducted on Meditation? We provide 16 references on peer reviewed studies & findings across 10 different segments where meditation was tested.
It’s often said that we humans have been meditating for a couple of thousand years. In Did Meditating Make Us Human?, however, Matt J. Rossano argues that it actually played a key role in human evolution. We are what we are—we think how we think—because of that practice! (1)(2)
Meditation is performed all over the world. It forms a key part of several major religious and cultural practices and it’s often recommended by Western doctors, psychologists, and other healthcare professionals. And not without reason. As a proponent of meditation and someone who practices it daily, I have a keen interest, and I will now take a look at the evidence that supports claims that practitioners have known for millennia.
Treatments that Use Mindfulness
The UN World Drug Report claims that over 35 million people worldwide struggle with addictions, and this is something that meditation could help with. Addictions increase the risk of death and disease (such as hepatitis C). You can treat many addictions with drugs, but they are often just as problematic. (3)(4)
That brings me to a study conducted by European Addiction Research in 2018 where researchers studied mindfulness as a way to treat addiction. The results were positive, and it is one of the most notable and the most quotable of analyses on meditation.
37 studies were checked and the researchers found that while meditation had no effects on overall mental health, there were “small” effects related to abstinence and stress; “moderate” effects related to anxiety and depression, and “large” effects associated with cravings.
They concluded that there were “clinically significant advantages” to these treatment methods when compared to other clinical approaches.
Meditation and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Research
Can meditation treat post-traumatic stress disorder? Is it more effective than exposure therapy? Those were the questions on the minds of Sanford Nidich, Paul J Mills, and other researchers. Their study, published in Lancet Psychiatry, compared both treatment options on a group of 203 veterans diagnosed with PTSD.(5)
Treatments were provided over the course of 12 weeks and the researchers found that transcendental meditation was “non-inferior” to prolonged exposure therapy, with 61% of participants noting significant improvements. They suggested that this non-trauma-focused therapy option could help to decrease PTSD symptoms in veterans.
Meditation in the Young
I’ve read numerous meditation studies over the years and can’t help but notice that the majority focus on the effects that this practice has on adults and seniors. But a 2018 study is one of the few exceptions. It found that meditation was more common among young people, from 0.6% in 2012 to 5.4% in 2017.(6)
Another review found that sitting meditation could treat behavioral and psychosocial conditions in the young. In other words, it’s a practice that can benefit all ages and may provide relief from an array of conditions.(7)
Can Mindfulness Meditation Help With Chronic Pain?
A meta-analysis on 38 randomized trials arrived at some interesting conclusions. The evidence for pain control wasn’t particularly notable, and they found “low-quality evidence” to suggest meditation could help to reduce pain. However, the same study highlighted “statistically significant effects” with regard to depression and quality of life.(8)
It’s notable—and could be life-changing—when you consider that these individuals might have daily struggles (including limited mobility and depression) that could be remedied/improved with a little meditation.
Meditation May Lower Blood Pressure
One of the most interesting studies I reviewed looked at 14 trials to measure whether mindfulness could help with blood pressure. Researchers measured blood pressure readings and short-term/long-term effects.
They found that meditation reduced systolic blood pressure. Diastolic blood pressure was also reduced during similar treatments. If you’ve ever meditated at the end of a long and stressful day, you’ll understand just how potent it can be for helping you to relax. It seems that those effects aren’t just in the mind, and also impact the body.(9)
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s the ultimate cure! Keep taking your meds and remember that meditation is best when used as a complementary treatment. You can discuss this treatment option more with your healthcare provider.
Compassion, Altruism, and the Role that Meditation Plays
When used as part of “compassion training”, meditation may improve an individual’s compassion and altruism, making them more compassionate and empathetic. That is the conclusion of numerous studies on compassion training, including Compassion Training Alters Altruism and Neural Responses to Suffering, published in Psychological Science.
The researchers suggested that compassion could be improved with meditation practice, and this in turn would increase altruistic behavior in the real world. Meditation is often seen as a lonely and even selfish pursuit, something that practitioners do in their own homes and for their own benefit. But this study puts a different slant on that notion.
Participants that had undergone compassion training displayed more compassion after the two weeks. They were more altruistic toward a victim after witnessing an unfair social interaction, and there were also notable neural changes.(10)
Meditation and its Effects on Racism and Bias
Meditation may eliminate certain biases. At least, that was what Stefania Parks, Michèle D. Birtel, and Richard J. Crisp found in their 2014 study.
They looked at whether a single loving-kindness meditation intervention could reduce prejudice when given without context. The practice focused on prejudices towards a stranger and a homeless individual and it was found that meditation could reduce the negative feelings that some individuals have toward homeless people.
It’s just one piece of the puzzle, of course, and it doesn’t suggest that brief and isolated meditation can completely remove bias, but it bodes well for future research into the ways that meditation changes an individual’s mindset and compassion. The researchers concluded that meditation could be used alongside other treatment methods to combat prejudice and discrimination. (11)
Other studies have drawn similar conclusions. For instance, in 2014, Brian Gibson of Central Michigan University used meditation as a means of reducing racial and age-related bias, with positive results.(12)
Controlling Conflict Studies & Research
Conflict is a common part of any relationship, whether it’s a friendship, coupling, or marriage. It’s natural that two people living so close together will have the occasional issue, but sometimes, those issues spiral out of control and result in broken relationships and personal trauma.
According to research conducted in 2016, meditation could be the answer. Researchers designed a study that could determine whether an individual’s level of mindfulness impacted their negative behaviors during an argument.
Heterosexual couples gave saliva samples to test cortisol levels at several points during the study. It was found that those with higher mindfulness levels showed faster cortisol recovery when faced with negative behavior from their partner. The study concluded that practicing mindfulness could reduce the negative effects of stressful interpersonal encounters.(13)
Physical Changes Produced by Meditation
I have primarily used meditation for its psychological effects, and I know the same is true for many others. But a number of trials have highlighted potential physiological changes as well. In one such trial, conducted in 2018, authors K Carrière, B Khoury, M M Günak, and B Knäuper found that meditation was “effective in reducing weight and improving obesity-related eating behaviours”.(14)
There’s no suggestion that meditation is somehow burning fat or boosting metabolism, but rather that it’s helping to deal with the underlying behaviors and habits, including binge eating. It could give overweight individuals more self-control when managing their weight.
Answer the Question of Why People Meditate?
For me, meditation it’s about relaxation and mindfulness. It’s about improving my health and mind. And I’m not alone in that. Researchers from BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine compared mindfulness and spiritual meditation to determine why people meditate. It found that spiritual meditation was more common in former alcoholics. They were perhaps using the practice as an alternative therapy. As noted previously, it can also help to reduce cravings.
92% cited “stress management” as a reason for meditating while 91% were focused on improving their health and well-being. It also noted that people gravitated toward meditation as it provided holistic benefits.(15)
Summary: Reviewing Studies on Meditation
After reviewing numerous studies, it’s fair to conclude that meditation can have a positive impact on the mind and body. What’s more, there are very few negative reports. After all, unlike pharmaceuticals and natural remedies, it doesn’t claim to cure any specific ailments. There are no side effects or negative health outcomes.
You don’t even need to be able to sit up straight like a master yogi, as you can do it lying down.
Mindfulness is not quantifiable, and no one is stating that meditation will cure depression, anxiety, or trauma, only that it can make these conditions more manageable as part of a wider treatment plan. A 2020 study did note some “meditation adverse events”, including depression, anxiety, and gastrointestinal issues, but the reasons behind these occurrences aren’t clear and most healthcare professionals agree that meditation is an overall beneficial practice. (16)